All good things must come to an end, and Samurai Champloo is no exception. Mugen, Jin and Fuu are nearing the end of their long journey across Japan – but with just one small boat trip left to go, there are still obstacles in the way. Standing between Fuu and the ‘sunflower samurai’ is a trio of psychotic killers bent on revenge, and a mysterious samurai on a mission.
If Samurai Champloo can be thought of as a carefree wanderer -casually strolling along on his journey, stopping occasionally to smell the flowers or chat to a fellow traveller, and generally just having more fun than he really should be- then it’s about now that he’s realised that there’s really not much time left, and has to get serious and pick up the pace if he’s to get to his destination intact.
Such are the last three episodes of this series. Wasting no time in getting down to business, it’s soon clear that the tone is darker, the mood more serious and more dangerous. The build-up is handled well, shifting from each new event with an increasing sense of urgency, as Jin and Mugen split up to keep their pursuers busy, while Fuu races on ahead. The clichéd old ‘you go on ahead, I’ll hold them off’ bit works here because of the impending sense of finality; one way or the other this is going to be their last fight.
And when the fights do start, boy, do the sparks fly. The action is, as always, impeccable, with incredible choreography and camerawork. Jin’s duel with the samurai is an epic battle of swordplay, wits and skill – every bit your typical samurai showdown, but with extra emphasis on style and coolness. By contrast, Mugen’s encounter with the lead psycho takes place in a derelict church, and is so frenetic and chaotic that they barely notice the place quite literally coming down around them. The fights are a bit more brutal than usual too, and it’s hard not to wince as a certain someone’s arm is snapped like a brittle twig.
It’s not all about action though – plot threads thought to be long forgotten are revisited and sewn up. Take Jin for example; we finally see the hows and the whys about his past, his killing his master, and his reason for being on the road. It’s quite a sad story, but because of the way it’s told, it doesn’t feel at all rushed or unnatural, like an excuse to close things up. At the same time, Fuu finally meets up with the ‘sunflower samurai’, but the meeting is not what anyone expects – it’s surprisingly evocative and emotional. It’s to Champloo’s credit that it has built up such strong characters with relatively little background, an impressive feat for something more focused on style and action.
Strangely though, while all loose ends are tied up, the ending still isn’t as satisfying as it could have been. In a sense, it’s because everything is arranged in nice little packages; there doesn’t feel like there’s any need to revisit these characters. Compared to Shinchiro-san’s other great, Cowboy Bebop, the ending is disappointing – hardly surprising, but a cloud that’s going to remain above Champloo’s head.
Good anime endings are a rare commodity these days, and it’s been entirely too long since we’ve had one that not only ties up all the loose ends, but does so in a satisfying and memorable way. Samurai Champloo ticks all the right boxes, but stops just short of its full potential, leaving the viewer to wonder what might have been. But the journey’s now over, and it was a blast while it lasted.